With its holiday production coming up fast, the Lockport City Ballet is expanding.

The ballet studio on Main Street has a newly expanded room in the back, with a bigger studio and more practice space for the dancers.

Director Bill Gentes and his wife, associate director Susannah Gentes, said their other school, Classical Ballet of Western New York in Williamsville is going strong, and they have just opened a new location in Orchard Park.

In Lockport, the studio has between 125 and 150 students. Dancers begin at age 3 and can continue until they are 18, although the school does have some students who have finished high school.

From beginning classes in creative movement to ballet, pointe and modern dance, students learn the basic techniques in what their instructors call a non-competitive environment.

Susannah Gentes said they try to keep the kids focused on bettering themselves, rather than beating each other.

“We try and have an atmosphere of non-competitiveness,” she said. “We want them to enjoy themselves here, feel comfortable, so we really strive to not be competitive.”

“This is a technique school,” Bill said. “It’s not a recital school.”

Even so, they give the students the chance to show off their skills every year during their annual “Nutcracker” performance. The show is presented during the holiday season at the Riviera Theater in North Tonawanda.

Auditions this year will be held Sept. 9 and Sept. 16. The show is open to all experienced dancers, not only those in Lockport City Ballet.

There are parts open for both boys and girls.

“It’s more rare to get boys, of course, but we do have some,” Susannah said. It’s very nice to have them, to have the diversity.”

The dancers form a tight bond through it all, she added.

“The ones who come once a week, they make close friends,” she said. “But the ones who are here every day, they become very close friends.”

During the summer months, many students head out to summer learning programs with ballet companies around the country. Susannah said the students audition for the chance to spend several weeks with a major company, living in a dorm situation and learning from professional dancers in the field.

“They get exposed to different teachers, some different dance styles,” she said. “The number (of students) keeps growing every year. It gets higher and higher. That’s something we’re really proud of.”

Contact reporter April Amadon at 439-9222, ext. 6251.

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